More than ever, visual content is taking over the web. Propelled by the rise of smartphones and social channels, we have witnessed an explosive growth of photography in recent years.
In this landscape, where a bazillion photos compete for attention, the quality of a photo has become key for better conversions and powerful distribution. Filters, adjusting crop & zoom and focus matter. Anyone who has used social ads knows how much impact these edits can have on ad conversions.
At the same time, creative editing possibilities have grown and have become much more accessible through the plethora of mobile and web based editors, therefore, adding text, shapes, gradients and backdrops to images has never been simpler. Combined, these functions help to create a unique and distinct look, the photos become so-called ‘creatives’.
As a result, a growing number of companies across sectors and verticals consider adding photo editing capabilities to their products. But still, even a small feature like crop or text overlay involves significant development and even more maintenance efforts, especially when the number of supported platforms add up. It’s a delicate decision how much time, effort and focus you want to put into something that adds value to your product, but is not part of the core functionality.
Almost two years ago, we at 9elements had to make a similar decision. We were working with several clients that asked for a photo editor, and from the perspective of our product leads, none of the available solutions were the right fit. Alas, we realised that this was an untapped opportunity, so we decided to build an editor SDK that allowed us to reuse it across several products. This is how our PhotoEditor SDK was born. The reason we decided to build our own SDK was the need for value propositions that were missing in other solutions. These form our product’s very DNA today.
Right from the beginning, it was important that the SDK offered a wide range of customizations. As product people, we need that flexibility to make the editor blend into any product and seamlessly fit into its design without affecting the UX. Any customer should be able to change the look of the editor, select only the functions they need for their use case, and, if required, use their own assets for fonts, stickers etc.
Client Side Rendering
We wanted to give our clients maximum control over the editor, therefore we built up a technology stack that allows client-side rendering with high performance. This freed both us and our clients from any server-side dependencies.
Non-destructive photo editing
Another critical decision was to change the initial rendering pipeline to a non-destructive editing mode. This allows users to make changes to previous edits without affecting the other edits already made. From a user’s perspective this means that all creative decisions can be changed at any time: Apply a filter on an image, add text and shapes, go back and change the filter without losing any of the edits you made for the text and shapes. This stack allows for endless new possibilities in the creative flow, which we didn’t want to narrow down at any cost.
Becoming a successful bootstrapped company
Our value proposition proved to be successful: Startups as well as large tech companies and big brands eventually licensed our editor. We started serving our solution to millions of end-users, which in turn helped us improve our SDK and prioritise our roadmap further down the line. Today, our solution is part of a broad range of tools and products with new possibilities; a very rewarding feeling for our team. Messengers added our live filters, brush and text tools, Document management integrated image annotations and mosaics, Cloud storage evolved to become platforms for productivity apps, photo editing among the first ones. Ad management tools facilitate the work of ad creatives. You get the picture.
We couldn’t be happier, as this product feels extremely close to what we have been doing at 9elements before. On the one side, we are building a creative tool that helps end-users to design and create. On the other side, we are building a tool for developers, a challenge we gladly accept. What started as a side business has grown to a team of 12 people. (By the way, we’re hiring.) Today, we’re excited to kick off the next phase of our company. Stepping out of stealth and sharing insights of our business and product is long overdue. And will hit an important milestone: We are releasing brand new versions of our SDKs, starting with the next version of our iOS SDK today. The next year will be full of exciting updates, so stay tuned!